Turkey's government detained the editor-in-chief and at least 12 staffers of a major opposition newspaper on Monday, adding to the tens of thousands arrested or dismissed from government jobs the months following a failed coup in July.
A cartoonist, attorney, and several columnists were among the dozen or so staffers of the left-leaning, pro-secular Cumhuriyet newspaper taken into custody by Turkish police, allegedly for publishing content that attempted to legitimize the attempted military coup, according to a statement from the Istanbul chief prosecutor's office.
Nearly 37,000 Turks have been arrested and more than 100,000 suspended or dismissed from government jobs since the country entered into a state of emergency following the failed coup, leading to accusations by opposition parties and human rights groups that the government is taking advantage of the situation to silence all dissenting voices, not just those involved in the coup. As Scott Peterson reported for The Christian Science Monitor in July:
For President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it’s a moment that goes to the heart of the Turkey he is building, and now – taking advantage of what he believes to be a democratic, post-coup mandate – is tapping to further reshape the nation such that his increasingly authoritarian, Islamist brand of rule faces no challenge.
President Erdoğan’s harsh response speaks to a renewed – and perhaps justifiable, some say – paranoia, as he vows to rid Turkey of a “virus.” He has said that “traitors will pay a heavy price for the betrayal of this country,” and says God granted a blessing “because this will cause our armed forces to be cleansed.”
But at stake may also be internal stability in Turkey, which serves as a frontline bulwark against regional turmoil in Syria and Iraq, hosts 3.1 million refugees, and is home to NATO’s second-largest armed force. Turkey provides an airbase at Incirlik for US planes to strike IS targets, and some US nuclear weapons are stored there.
Since July, 170 media outlets have been shut down and 105 journalists arrested, according to the general secretary of the Turkish Journalists' Association. Additionally, more than 700 journalists have had their press credentials revoked.
"Instead of moves to strengthen democracy we are faced with a counter coup," main opposition party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said after visiting Cumhuriyet. "We are faced with a situation where the coup has been used as an opportunity to silence society's intellectuals and mount pressure on media."
Opposition politicians and demonstrators gathered at the newspaper's headquarters in Istanbul on Monday to express solidarity with the detained journalists, chanting anti-government slogans.
The move also drew criticism internationally, with John Dalhuisen, Europe Director for rights group Amnesty International, condemning the detentions as a "systematic attempt to silence all critical voices." He described the widening crackdown on dissenting media as a "blatant misuse of emergency powers," and called on authorities to release the journalists from pretrial detention.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz tweeted that the detentions were "yet another red line crossed against freedom of expression in Turkey," and a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "We have emphasized, and will continue to do so, that press freedom is not just something of great value for us, but central to every democratic state of law."
Despite the arrests and the threat of closure or government takeover, Cumhuriyet columnist Ayşe Yıldırım said the newspaper would not back down from spreading its message.
"We are not going to hand over Cumhuriyet; we are not going to allow them to assign a trustee," she said outside of the paper's headquarters. "We will hold our heads high and continue our publication without fear."
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.